Thursday, March 15, 2012

South Carolina native poet Finney speaks at USC

Here's a great candidate for South Carolina poet laureate: Nikky Finney, the Conway-born daughter of retired Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney and a Newberry-born elementary school teacher, Frances Davenport Finney.

Raised right here in South Carolina, Finney attended public schools through our delayed period of integration, and graduated Sumter High School in 1975. She studied here in the South, at Alabama's Talladega College and Atlanta University.

Finney ultimately landed a distinguished professorship at the University of Kentucky, and held a one-year chair at historic Berea College, and had work published by both the University of Georgia and the University of Kentucky presses. She's collected national awards and honors, including the coveted National Book Award, for a collection of poems just last year.

With her rootedness in South Carolina and its land and history, and her distinguished record as writer and teacher across the South, what a great poet laureate Nikky Finney would make for the state of South Carolina.

But the position of poet laureate in South Carolina is a lifetime appointment, and it was last filled in 2003 by former Governor Mark Sanford, who appointed Marjory Heath Wentworth of Lynn, Massachusetts, who relocated to Sullivan's Island with film producer Peter Wentworth in the 1980s and now writes from Mount Pleasant.

Fans of poetry can hear Finney, however, this evening at USC in Columbia, where she is lecturing on the art of writing.

USC spokeswoman Peggy Binette says Finney is delivering the 15th annual Robert Smalls Lecture Thursday at the Darla Moore School of Business on the Columbia campus.

Finney won the 2011 National Book Award for poetry for her most recent publication, "Head Off & Spit."

The lecture series was launched in 1997 to honor Smalls, who was born into slavery and became a Civil War hero and congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction.

The address is free and open to the public.

To get a sense of Finney's passion for her region and her craft, listen to her acceptance speech at the National Book Award ceremony of last year.

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